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Learning difference : the impact of university education on competing conceptions of equality in Canada Brodhead, John Dalzell

Abstract

This paper analyzes the constitutional discourse in Canada with specific reference to university education and its effect on the opinions of individuals. It proposes that competing conceptions of equality may lie at the heart of Canada's constitutional stalemate, and that university education influences which conception will be supported. Differentiated equality is equality defined as universal basic human rights augmented by group-specific rights where necessary. This contrasts with the more, traditional definition of equality, undifferentiated equality, where equality requires identical treatment of all citizens by the state. The university-educated appear to be far more likely to have the cognitive capacities and social experience to come to support claims for differentiated equality than are the non-university-educated. This paper looks at the literature on the university experience, and what it may be from this experience that leads individuals to become more likely to support group-specific rights. The paper looks at the reasoning chains used by individuals, and posits that the university-educated employ more complex reasoning chains that include ideas as well as feelings. The statistical analysis yields some interesting and significant results. There is a consistent difference between the university-educated and those who have never attended university on support for differentiated equality. Whether it is group specific rights for Aboriginal people, for Quebec, or for ethnic minorities in Canada, a 15-20% gap consistently appears between the university and non-university educated. The paper also attempts to gauge statistically what factors of the university experience are important in the development of support for either of the conceptions of equality. If differentiated equality is the chosen route for resolving Canada's constitutional challenge, this paper reveals a number of hurdles, both conceptual and practical, that will have to be cleared before Canada will be able to move forward.

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